What makes human beings different from the other species of creatures
on earth? There is a common saying that a human being can express whatever
in his/her mind through words or deeds/gestures. To put it in other
words, one could say that a human being can `narrate' his/her mental
process of comprehending the world in which they live. This process
of comprehension happens not only with the external world but with the
internal world of one's own self also. But here I would like to give
a twist to the way of looking at the narrative capacity of a human being.
I would propose that what distinguishes a human being from the other
forms of life is nothing but his/her capacity to create many sub-narratives
from the available forms of narratives around.
Now it is urgent to tell my readers what a narrative is and of course
what the sub-narratives are. Anything that is used for converting a
place into a space of communion is a narrative. For example, when two
or more persons come into a room the meaning of the place slightly changes.
However, it does not become a space of communion. The persons in question
try to study (if he or she is not so much self obsessed) each other
in terms of the dress code, the items they carry in their hands and
even the kind of perfume that they have sprayed on their curves and
heights of their bodies. Once they feel the unbearable heaviness of
being with each other, anyone of them who is feeling an urgency to get
of the growing discomfort of being silent and strange within the same
place would initiate a dialogue with anyone of the others. This initiation
of the dialogue could be in the form of a smile (a special way of showing
teeth to establish a rapport unlike the animals who use the same method
to establish hostility), an extending of a hand, introducing oneself
with a set of adjectives or just a set of nice words. These are all
the components that make a place into a space of communion. And a chain
of such components makes a narrative.
This does not mean that a narrative happen only in an active space (a
space of communion). In other words a narrative is not strictly bound
by the act of communication alone. A narrative can be an act of retrospection
or introspection, critical reading of a contemporary event or a historical
event. Once the social space/society is taken as a space of communion
(a given paradigm), anything read out of that communion is a sub-narrative.
In that sense, each person in the society is involved in creating a
set of regular narratives and sub-narratives. I would like to add that
a narrative (in the active sense) is a creative gesture and all the
sub-narratives (whose creation happens mostly in physical isolation)
are critical gestures.
Any active society works through the production of narratives. Interestingly,
each narrative (thereby millions and billions of narratives produced
during each and every passing moment) creates its own rules and regulations
for making it easy for comprehending as well as for paving ways for
producing similar narratives. When similar narratives are produced abundantly
they get ingrained in the consciousness or the collective memory of
a society thereby deciding the rules of social life according to the
rules set up by the very same narratives that they had given birth to.
In other words every narrative works through three different levels;
narratives, meta-narratives and grand narratives.
I would like to quote Simon Malpas who has edited a primer of postmodernism
titled `Postmodern Debates'. Malpas differentiates these three sections
of a narrative in the following words: "The events, feelings, experiences
that make up our lives are thought, described and even experienced in
and as narratives. The rules of these narratives are given by `meta
narratives' that indicate the sorts of statement that are legitimized
for a particular narrative genre. The `grand narratives' of progress
draw together all of the narratives and meta narratives in order to
construct a historical, moral and political view of the world in which
we live." (Post Modern Debates. Edited by Simon Malpas. Palgrave
The world unravels itself to the human beings in terms of knowledge,
morality, identity, politics and freedom through narratives. But there
are junctures where the common rules forwarded by the tri-component
system of narratives fail to conceive and shape up a world for our comprehension.
Moving from a familiar narrative to the unfamiliar one (making one to
have the uncanny feeling) always causes a rupture that in turn goads
the human beings to create a fragmented vision of the narrative. Modernism
presented a narrative that took a prolonged time to seep into the collective
consciousness of the society by constantly producing the tri-component
narrative structure. Rules were set and the life seemed to be running
according to the grand morals. But the ongoing social process brings
in ruptures that threaten the magnanimity of the grand narratives. During
the post-modern times this fragmentation became more and more strong
and the human beings started creating/producing fragmented narratives
that served the purpose of comprehending and communicating a fragmented
Despite the fragmentation of narratives, the space of communion is retained
even in the postmodern conditions. What does it indicate? It indicates
nothing but a society cannot be stripped off of its own narratives however
fragmented they may be. I would like to add at this stage that the multitude
of narratives produced in a society does not necessarily partake in
the production of a society's art. Art, as far as the issue of narrative
is concerned is one among many of the narratives generated in a society.
Artists find a special way of telling their way of comprehending the
art through a variety of media. Interestingly, these narratives could
be a set of sub-narratives meanwhile giving birth to a host of sub-narratives.
This is like a nuclear fission process and to follow this chain reaction
of narratives one should need a very special receptive capacity, which
could be called a system of cultural critique.
We have been talking about comprehending the world as a unitary
whole. But such totalitarian views could be held only for forwarding
theoretical propositions. As each person has a way of narrating the
world, each nation has a way of narrating itself, particularly based
on the grand-narratives produced over many cultural eons. Hence, the
geographical mappings bring in another narrative that is so much rooted
to the local and provincial cultures. One could say that a nation speaks
through its narratives. And as a part of those national narratives,
each creative individual is bound to go downstream or upstream with
such narratives. So a narrative is not only an instrument to uphold
ones creative presence legitimized by the geographically bounded grand-narratives
but a critical tool that intervenes and generates critiques on such
grand-narratives. To add flavor to such critical narratives, they carry
the traces of the national grand-narratives as parodies or pastiches.
Here reference of the grand-narratives becomes a sub-narrative in the
An unstinting faith in the grand-narratives, thereby the belief
in the modern national concept and also a grand wish for a parallel
unblemished land (Utopia), a land of equal right and justice forces
the artists (generally human beings) to fall back into the sequential
narrative techniques. Here one could move from one time to another with
a godly ease within the same spatial temporality. One could tell stories
of one's own exploits and adventures even while detaching from the whole
scene. One can tell parables and self-contained autobiographical explorations.
One can hunt with the dogs and run with the hares. But when the hopes
for the Utopias collapse, you cannot hold on to the grand-narratives
or their parallel sub-narratives. You need to create your own narratives
that might be fragmented and frozen like cinema stills. These condensed
narratives depict historical and critical understanding of the world
that has been fragmented not only in the physical way but in the minds
of the human beings also.
Authored and Published by JOHNY M.L MRINAL KULKARNI
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